Saturday, September 1, 2018

Elves: Once Walked with Gods by James Barclay

Elves: Once Walked with Gods by James Barclay is a book I wanted to like, and certainly the premise was solid enough to catch my fancy, but I struggled to finish the story. It’s not that the writing is terrible – it’s just that the author’s style seems to be adequate rather than enchanting, if that makes sense.

The bare bones of the story is that the elves once suffered a terrible defeat on their home world, and only barely escaped to a new world. Except their leader, one Takaar, shamed himself by running away during that first conflict and has spent the past while going quietly mad out in the forest while his people continue without him.

A concept I quite liked was that Barclay’s elves aren’t all immortal - there are different lineages or threads, as he calls them, that have different lifespans. This is also a source of internal conflict for the elves, obviously with the more longer-lived threads lording it over the ones with briefer lives. And it’s this very same conflict that makes them vulnerable when humans invade.

While the elves have elite warriors, who’re absolutely super in battle, the humans have access to devastating magic. It’s pretty clear early on that things are going to go wrong, in a bad way. The setting was pretty interesting too – Barclay decided on a rainforest where the primary conflict takes place. So that was a bit different from the usual offerings. I do admit, however, I’m an old-school team elven – so I’m not nuts about the idea of elves growing beards, but that’s Barclay’s world building for you. At least they shave, I guess. (Yes, yes, ruined by Tolkien; I admit it freely.)

Another gripe I had with the story was that I don’t feel as if Barclay delved deep enough into characters’ motivations or emotions – he has a large cast, some of whom only have brief appearances. So it’s difficult to keep track of who is who, and who did what to whom. Also, there’s a lot of history and special terms tossed about, so it takes a while to get into the flow. Mostly, I just felt frustrated, because I couldn’t really get into any of the characters fully.

Look, this is not a bad story. If you prefer your fantasy action packed and fast paced, with loads of combat, you’re most likely going to be reading this story for those exact reasons, and then this book is fine. Unfortunately, I’m not that reader, and I wanted more. This is also clearly book one in a series, so don’t expect a grand ending with all the loose ends neatly tied with ribbons. Unfortunately I’m not invested enough to pick up the rest.

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